In the fall of 2012, the FCC announced that they would be granting new Low Power FM radio sites to groups seeking to broadcast radio. These were the remaining spots available between the existing radio stations and would be able to reach between 3 and 5 miles from the point of transmission, so they would be able to reach a very local audience.
I heard about this on my favorite radio station KBCS or 91.3 FM and I got excited. This would be a chance to do something for our community. We could air interviews with Tacoma people who were doing things to strengthen our community. We could air local talent. We could do regular programs about the issues in Tacoma. We could offer different perspectives on international, national and local news than the mainstream media, but I had no idea where to start.
Then I heard that several other people were interested in this, too, in Tacoma, so a group was formed. In January of 2013, we held our first meeting and the excitement was palpable in the room. The other original members of this group were: Ross Reider, Alex Epstein, Michael Kagan, Julio Quan, Louisa Beal, Kerri Griffis and Terry Fuller as well as several others who have moved out of the area or gone on to concentrate on other issues. Over the next several months we hammered out what we envisioned for our fledgling station, Radio Tacoma. We all agreed that we wanted this to be a voice for our diverse community, to offer an arena for the broad ethnic and cultural minorities Tacoma holds and to advocate for progressive issues as well. We developed a vision statement and a mission statement.
Radio Tacoma wants to become a hub for our community to share information, education and to showcase songwriters, musicians, storytellers. We aspire to aid our community in knowing what is happening locally in the progressive arena and what people are working on so that everyone who wishes to can be an active participant in improving the quality of life in Tacoma.
Radio Tacoma is a low-power FM public access radio station developed to serve Tacoma, Washington, to provide our community with the opportunity for participatory democracy and to provide a voice for progressive groups, union members, minority groups and local talent that might otherwise not get heard.
There is also a wealth of talent in Tacoma, such as musicians, poets, and storytellers. We all agreed that we wanted to offer them the opportunity to air their material.
There was a monumental amount of work that we needed to accomplish in order to submit an application. Being a Federal agency, you can imagine what the FCC application looked like! It was very long, very technical and personally, my eyes crossed when I saw it. The FCC stipulated that the licenses would only be granted to those groups who had held a 501 C3 non-profit status for over 1 year and that sought to be educational or safety oriented in some way in their community. We were none of those things so we needed to find and partner with an entity that was. We ended up partnering with The Bridge United Methodist Church at 5601 S Puget Sound Avenue who are interested in supporting local peace, justice and spiritual issues in Tacoma and also with the Asian Pacific Cultural Center, the APCC, who want to broadcast music, stories and news in a variety of Pacific Rim languages for their members who may not understand English.
We also had to choose an engineer to work with who could help us with the issue of where we wanted to site our transmitter because whether we would even be considered a viable applicant by the FCC depended on where we sought to transmit. This is because the location on the radio dial had to not be interfering with any other existing radio station. Hiring an engineer meant we needed to have money! None of us had deep pockets but we did come up with the money and hired the well-respected Gray Frierson out of Portland Oregon to help us.
We logically decided that since we were partnering with the APCC and The Bridge and since The Bridge might let us use a room in their basement for a studio, and since we didn’t just want to preach to the same choir, we wanted a transmission site in the south end of Tacoma and that a 3 to 5 mile broadcast area would allow us to reach as far as Joint Base Ft. Lewis/ McCord. It was good that we decided that because in the process of filing the application we learned that Vashon Radio’s signalWe logically decided that since we were partnering with the APCC and The Bridge and since The Bridge might let us use a room in their basement for a studio, and since we didn’t just want to preach to the same choir, we wanted a transmission site in the south end of Tacoma and that a 3 to 5 mile broadcast area would allow us to reach as far as Joint Base Ft. Lewis/ McCord. It was good that we decided that because in the process of filing the application we learned that Vashon Radio’s signal already covered a large portion of North Tacoma, and we also learned that there were two other groups with different missions that were also applying for FCC permits in different areas of Tacoma, one group in Brown’s Point and one much further to the east of Tacoma.
The learning curve was very steep, as Kerri would say, but we filed our application in time (October 2013) and with a lengthy wait including a government shut-down, we found out that our application had been approved on November 5 2014. Hooray! We had a celebration party complete with champaign and then contemplated all the work we had yet to do.
What equipment did we need, how does one build a studio, where could we put our tower, just how does a radio station work to do a broadcast, where were we getting the money for all this stuff? How were we going to apportion air time with the two sponsoring agencies? What about actual programming? Boy, were we ignorant! More research! Incidentally, we didn’t want to start fundraising until we knew that we were getting a license, so as of November we have actively been looking at the fundraising issue. We went to workshops, contacted Promethius Radio for technical assistance, worked closely with our engineer regarding best south end sites for a tower. Gray’s mantra, unfortunately, always was the same: “Tacoma’s geography is not good for broadcasting!” Gray is, after all, an engineer, and his focus is always on the technical aspects on broadcasting. However, since we LIVE in Tacoma, that is where we have to put our transmitter!
As of November, 2014, we had eighteen months to get up and running, and although we have had some setbacks, we are moving forward. Ups and downs, ups and downs. We thought we had a possible tower site but it turned out they wanted a thousand dollars a month to use their existing tower, which was not feasible. The Bridge also went through an organizational change that resulted in a new minister and having to build a new relationship. One of our very valuable members, skilled in technology, moved back to Texas. Another member developed cancer and is moving to Spain. Still another member’s wife told him he had to cut back on his obligations in the community so he dropped out of Radio Tacoma. But other people have come forward as well.
We have a facebook page that is getting good responses. We have a website with a donation button but not much else as yet. We have a person now from The Bridge who is on our Board of Directors (as previously our board member was the minister and he was let go when they reorganized) We are revising our business plan so that we can apply for grants. The Education committee of the Pierce County Labor Council, the Tacoma Labor History group, United For Peace of Pierce County, Jobs with Justice, People for Peace, Justice and Healing, and other groups are expressing interest in Radio Tacoma and an interest in possibly donating money to help us get up and running. Many young people who want an opportunity to broadcast their talents as well and other musicians and artists have expressed an interest. Victory Music would love us to air their weekly music venues. We are developing our programming and have developed our code of conduct for broadcasters.
We held our first fundraising event, a concert, on July 21st and we had a table again at Ethnicfest last week. We have 41 new people who have expressed an interest in getting involved and we are meeting them tonight! As of last week, we have another hot prospect for where we can site our tower and you can bet we are following up on that because no tower=no transmission. We have until June 2016 to get up and running on our original license but we can file for one extension with the FCC.
So there you have Radio Tacoma. Can you see the value of having a local FM non-commercial radio station in Tacoma and will you help us with your support?
Written by Marylin Kimmerling